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Visiting Washington D.C. a year ago, I watched the “roll call” of votes for a new House Speaker and saw that many Republicans were aging white men. Democrats were younger. more female and more racially diverse.
This was hardly a ground-breaking observation, but it is one young Republican leaders can’t ignore.
One of whom is Justin Musella, 28, who was recently elected chair of the Young Republicans of Morris County.
“Overall, the perception many people have about the Republican party is (that) it is an aging demographic,” he said when we met for a chat a few days ago at a Panera in Morristown. “That’s the perception.”
But in some ways, it’s also the reality. And that’s something Musella, who in “real life,” sells information technology related to commercial real estate, wants to change – at least in his part of the world.
“A lot of people who are coming here (Morris County), who are moving here are younger. And there is a big void as to how we are penetrating them,” Musella says.
Musella has some ideas on how to bolster that penetration. He says he and other like-minded folk have to seek out young people where they are, meaning that if you’re out having drinks one night, be bold enough to talk to people about politics and Republicanism.
More importantly, Musella says Republicans in general need to do a better job spreading their message and ideals on Facebook and other social media platforms. He acknowledges Democrats have done this better.
This brings us to the message Musella wants to disseminate?
He says he knows some studies show young people don’t vote all that much, and that the ones who do, are likely to vote Democratic.
Musella’s strategy is to talk to fellow young people about the issues that truly impact their lives. He reasons that young people who want to buy a house in the suburbs, or who have just done so, would be amenable to a party that wants to keep taxes down and allow workers to see more take-home pay in their checks.
“As many (young people) have gone into careers, what they are seeing are the real life impact of decisions made by elected officials,” he said.
Economic issues are arguably the traditional strength of the Republican Party, but what about social concerns? The national Republican Party long has opposed such things as abortion rights and marriage equality.
In what may deviate a bit from national norms, Musella says that in general, young Republicans “tend to be more socially moderate” than others in the party. He says many in his age group respect traditional values, but also understand they must accept change. And he said there has been change over the years regarding abortion and gay rights.
But the larger point Musella stresses is this:
“I still firmly believe issues we win on at the end of the day are economic issues.”
He is convinced that in a Democratic-run state with fiscal woes, the Republican message of fiscal prudence and low taxes can resonate among the young.
He said the county’s Young Republican organization has about 40 active members. The official age limit for being a “young” Republican is 41.
Musella, who lives in Morris Township, points to a number of young and diverse Republicans now making their marks in local politics.
They include Joseph Bock, an alderman in Boonton, Sarah Neibart, the mayor of Mendham Township, and Rik Mehta, a Chester resident of Indian descent seeking the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate.
Musella suggests people like this – and others to come – will help Republicans challenge the notion that a typical party member is an old white guy.